One thing I have noticed about truly effective leaders is that they are able to keep good  perspective and know how to effectively handle stress.  They are “cool” under pressure.  We tend to think in extremes as it relates to stress.  The goal is not to eliminate stress from our lives or we will never grow.  Sports psychologist and executive coach Dr. James Loehr noted, “Stress pushes us to expend energy emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Then comes a period of recovery and healing—and growth.”   However, too much stress with no perspective can lead to trouble as well.  Author James Allen said, “The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.”   My interviewee this week, Mike Morgan, is one of the most effective leaders I have ever observed in keeping perspective and remaining calm in the face of uncertainty.

Morgan, a Clinton native, served as CFO, and later as President, of Bomgar Corporation until he recently accepted a position as a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.  Morgan received a bachelor degree in accountancy from Ole Miss and later a MBA from Mississippi College and a Certificate of Professional Accountancy from the University of West Florida.   Morgan, a licensed CPA, began his career as an auditor with Arthur Andersen and later worked for LDDS Communications as a Corporate Development Manager.  Prior to joining Bomgar in 2006, Morgan had served as CFO for Touch One Communication, Trinsic, and American Healthtech.


Mike Morgan

Morgan shared, “Stress management doesn’t get enough attention as a leadership quality.  At every level of the organization, you have employees that really care about what they are doing and employees that don’t care.  The ones that care feel stress, because they want to do a good job.  Those are the ones that perform and rise up through the organization.  They get more responsibility, so they feel more stress.  There is a healthy level of stress that keeps us pushing forward.  But there is an unhealthy level of stress that kills performance and can consume people.  A leader has to recognize the level of stress of his high-performing employees and help them keep it from becoming unhealthy.”

Morgan also emphasized that perspective is also important for a leader.  He noted, “Being able to discern what really deserves your time and attention, and helping employees discern what really matters is a big part of leading.” Morgan shared with me additional wisdom for future leaders, “Employees need to know you believe in them and you have high expectations.  They will want to live up to the expectations.  When its game time, you don’t hear coaches nitpicking every little flaw of the team.  The pregame talk is all about believing in the team and setting high expectations.  On Monday you review the film and make some corrections, but pretty quickly you are back to building folks up.”

Morgan helped entrepreneurial founder Joel Bomgar lead Bomgar Corporation through eight years of high growth which led to a successful recapitalization by TA Associates in May.  After helping with the transition, Morgan decided to pursue teaching full time.  He had previously taught part time as an adjunct professor at Mississippi College and Holmes Junior College.  Morgan shared, “I am very excited about the opportunity at USM to work with students and help prepare them for their future. In my brief tenure so far, I have been very impressed with the institution and the quality of students.  They are going to keep me on my toes!” I am excited that these students will benefit from not only Morgan’s expertise in finance and accounting, but also as an extremely effective and balanced leader.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, August 29, 2014.] Read More

Mississippi, the home of literary greats such as Faulkner, Morris, and Welty, arguably has had more than its fair share of people talented with the gift of words. Joe Stradinger, Founder and CEO of Edge Theory, and I recently discussed this cultural history.  We joked that perhaps the soil is richer here in Mississippi.  Joe’s company is tapping into this tradition in a very exciting and unique way. They are marrying innovative technology with the rich Southern tradition of conversation to achieve measurable results for companies in the realm of social media marketing.  Joe grew up in the Mississippi Delta and earned his accounting degree from Mississippi College before traveling the world as a business consultant with Arthur Anderson.  In 1998, he started, an online Christian music site, which was an instant success and was acquired by Gaylord Entertainment shortly after its launch.  After working for Gaylord Entertainment and launching Gaylord Digital, Joe went on to success in real estate projects before returning to his knack for technology innovation.


Joe Stradinger

As social media was just ramping up, Joe saw its potential and was on the leading edge of thinking about how to apply it to help businesses grow.  He consulted with companies like Viking Range and Home Away on how to authentically engage and connect with customers.  Joe’s research and work in this field led him to launch Edge Theory (formerly known as Leadify) in 2012.   Joe noted, “I realized that the true power of social media is not in likes, follows or favorites.  Instead, social media has the greatest impact and the greatest return from the indexing of content that occurs daily across hundreds of search engines and content aggregators, effectively raising authority and disseminating content to thousands of people who will never like nor follow a business’s social media accounts.” He continued, “Companies pursuing authentic conversation (beyond the overt repetition of self-promotion) can connect with thousands of people before they ever think about a company or search for a product or service. Every day, a business can connect consumers with their interests.”

He contrasts traditional search engines where people already know what they are looking for with what he does which he describes as a “Find Engine.”  Interestingly, he helps companies connect with customers before they are even customers.  Joe calls these “pre-customers.”  His company does this by helping clients create and engage in conversations with these pre-customers around their passions and connecting them with his client’s location, features, & unique value.  Former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale recognized the potential of this new company and now serves on the Board of Directors.  The company is quickly scaling its business and now has offices in Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York in addition to their headquarters in Jackson. They have clients on three continents which include well-known brands as Neiman Marcus,, Mayo Clinic, and Travelocity as well as Mississippi based Trinity Apparel, University of Mississippi Medical Center, and Mississippi College.

I am always on the lookout for great companies on the rise in Mississippi, and I was excited to learn of Edge Theory’s aggressive plans for growth.  Joe’s energy and passion are contagious.  In addition, I was struck by his pride in his Mississippi roots.  As he travels the globe evangelizing for his company and this innovative marketing model, he is often asked how he could create a company like this in Mississippi as opposed to the normal technology centers like San Francisco, Austin, or Boston.  When he explains Mississippi’s history and knack for the art of conversation, he is able to say, “There is no place I would rather be!”

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, August 22, 2014.] Read More

Native Mississippian and motivational guru Zig Ziglar once said, “Outstanding people have one thing in common: An absolute sense of mission.”  Based on my observation of successful leaders, I would wholeheartedly agree with Ziglar’s conclusion.  These leaders have discovered their true passion and are living “on purpose” with focus and determination.  Mission driven individuals inspire others to greatness and to make a difference.  My interviewee this week, Patricia (Patti) Gandy, is the type person Ziglar was referring.  Gandy is living out her passion each day as the founding Director of the Mission First Legal Aid Office which was established by Mississippi College School of Law and Mission First, Inc. to provide legal services to qualified residents of Hinds, Madison and Rankin Counties.


Patti Gandy

Gandy’s resume is put together almost as if she was destined for her current role. However, she is quick to explain that there was no grand plan, but instead, a faithful commitment to doing each job well in her journey.  A native of Jackson, Gandy received her associate’s degree from Hinds Community College and soon found herself employed as a receptionist for a law firm which led to her becoming a legal secretary.  While still in her 20s, she went on to become president of the Mississippi Legal Secretaries Association.  As she approached her thirtieth birthday, she decided it was time to complete her undergraduate degree which she did in business at Mississippi College.

To pay her way through school, Gandy freelanced as a legal assistant and ended up helping connect other legal assistants with job opportunities. Upon graduation, she decided to create a business (The Gandy Agency) to provide legal assistants to law firm.  She built a thriving business over an eight year period.  As she considered the next decade of her life, she decided to go to law school at Mississippi College School of Law where she was a top student. Upon graduation, she clerked for the Mississippi Court of Appeals before practicing with Butler Snow, LLP for a number of years. In 2006, Patti accepted the position of Mission First Legal Aid Office.

Gandy shared, “I reflected on what I was passionate about and realized that I truly enjoyed helping the poor and needy.”  She continued, “As I look back, I realize that God was preparing me for each opportunity.”  Leaders like Gandy understand that leadership is journey, not a destination.  Based on the role model of her father, Gandy sought to be a good steward of the job at hand and strived to be a servant leader.  She said, “My Dad also taught me the importance of connecting with his employees on a personal level and being genuinely interested in their lives.”

She bases her leadership philosophy on trust and respect. Today she works with hundreds of professional volunteers to help them live out their faith by using their skills to help the poor with legal aid.  Last year, the organization and its volunteers made a difference in the lives of over 1,500 people.  The organization has been a big success and complements the work done by Mississippi Volunteer lawyer Project and similar organizations.  Gandy’s main focus is on recruiting, motivating, and encouraging the volunteers and keeping the organization aligned with its mission.  She regularly speaks to communities around the state about how to set up similar programs.  In 2014, Gandy was recognized for her accomplishments and was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by The Mississippi Bar.  I am encouraged by Gandy’s commitment to excellence and her courage to follow the path of an “on mission” life.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, August 15, 2014.] Read More

In February of 2005, I was practicing in a two person law firm when my law partner and good friend Jesse Harrington passed away.  It was a time of great difficulty, and I considered what path to next take in life.  I distinctly remember someone sharing with me to not make any drastic changes for at least a year.  That was great advice. Towards the end of that year, I had the opportunity to get to know a young talented attorney named Patrick McCraney.  Patrick was several years younger than me, but had a great resume as an Ole Miss graduate and a law degree from Washington & Lee.   He had recently served as President of the Jackson Young Lawyers and was building a reputation as a real estate and business lawyer.


Patrick McCraney

The son a prominent Jackson physician, Patrick was the youngest of four high achieving siblings.  Out of law school, he had an entrepreneurial drive which led him to explore some different avenues to combine his love of the law with his passion for business.  Some may describe that entrepreneurial drive as an affliction, if so, it is one that I have suffered for most of my life.  With a similar drive to help businesses grow and prosper, Patrick joined my law practice and over the next several years built a thriving practice. Except for a brief stint as a general counsel of a real estate company, Patrick focused on building his client base and continuing his leadership development including being a part of the inaugural class of the Mississippi Bar Leadership Forum and serving in leadership roles with Young Business Leaders of Jackson and the Capital Area Bar Association.

When I stepped away from practicing law day to day and assumed my current role with Butler Snow Advisory Services, Patrick took the leap to form his own law firm which today is McCraney, Coco & Lee, PLLC.  It is with great satisfaction that I have watched him develop as a leader in the law and build a thriving law practice.  I know first-hand how challenging it is to start a practice from scratch and juggle the demands of taking care of clients as well as running the operations of a law firm.

Patrick credits his parents with modeling for him the qualities of a leader.  He noted, “My father demonstrated consistency, priorities, faithfulness, discipline and compassion.  He had zero fear of being ‘unpopular’ in our world if that meant doing what he believed was right for our family or our well-being/personal development.”  His mother also assumed multiple leadership roles in the community, and he shared, “She clearly demonstrated that leadership roles were to be embraced and you should serve when called upon if at all possible within the context of your schedule and priorities.”

For future leaders, Patrick encourages them to “Be yourself!”  He shared, “You can certainly learn from and emulate others, but everyone’s leadership style is unique.   Lack of authenticity is very transparent and easily detected.   As much as people are drawn to authentic leadership, they are equally repelled by disingenuous actions and attitudes.”  Patrick also emphasized the importance of being a good listener and noted, “You can’t truly lead others when the only perspective or viewpoint you hear is your own.”   With four young children and a law practice to manage, Patrick keeps a very busy schedule; however as modeled by his parents, I expect that we will see continued commitment to leadership in his profession and the community.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, August 11, 2014.] Read More